The works of famous Jewish composers have inspired the birth of a new tune and music video that will travel the North Shore as a concert and a presentation.
Jukebox Groove, a product of the Terra Sounds School of Muisc & Arts made possible by a grant from the Jewish United Fund, began with the music of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Benny Goodman, and other great Jewish composers of the past. Aleks Romanenko, president and co-founder of Terra Sounds, has long wanted to find a creative way to present iconic works to the new generation.
“I love introducing my students to a wide array of music, including the works that have really shaped me as a musician,” says Romanenko, a recording artist also known by the name Aleks Di Roma and a guitar instructor at the Glenview-based school and production company.
“My inspiration behind Jukebox Groove is simple – when I first heard tunes like "Sing, Sing, Sing" and “Summertime," they sounded incredibly different from everything I've heard and they truly changed my understanding and appreciation of music. Coincidentally, at that time, I was about the same age as many of my students.”
Early last year, Romanenko was awarded the Tikkun Fellowship grant, a new initiative JUF’s Russian Jewish Division (RJD) designed to support projects that engage the community in meaningful and significant ways. Jukebox Groove is Terra Sounds team effort; Romanenko is joined by clarinetist and Terra Sounds co-founder and Head of Audio Production Matvey Kostukovsky, as well as other talented instructors and prominent Chicago-based musicians such as saxophonist Doug Rosenberg, trumpeter James Davis, and percussionist Dane Crozier. Video work was completed by Columbia College of Chicago graduate and cinematographer Sargon Saadi.
Our motivation was to showcase quotes from famous works such as ‘Bei Mir Bistu Shein’ and ‘Somewhere’ in a whole new way, so they would be more relevant for kids today,” said Kostukovsky. “As the result, the instrumentation, rhythm, and feel of these well-known melodies are completely different from the way they were done before.”
The track features an array of music genres, grooves, and sounds that are more prevalent in today’s pop music culture, yet with a strong improvisational nature of modern jazz. The quote from “Sing, Sing, Sing,” for example, is a traditional clarinet swing piece, but Jukebox Groove presents it as a reggae tune featuring the flute.
What also unites the pieces quoted in the track is that each of the featured Jewish composers has an Eastern European background. Gershwin, Bernstein, and Goodman all came from a similar cultural origin and relative region of the world. Sholom Secunda, the composer of the famous “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” was originally from Oleksandriya, a small city about an hour away from Romanenko’s home town.
Similarly, another melody featured in the track pays a special tribute to the rich klezmer culture of Ukraine.
“The tune, literally entitled “The Fried Chicklet” [in translation] is truly a part of my childhood, and is instantly recognizable by several generations of Ukrainian decent and far beyond,” Romanenko said. The composer is unknown, but the original lyrics are attributed to the famous Kiev-born lyricist Yakov Davydov, and by the early 1920s this song had become a standard in the repertoire of legendary Odessa-based klezmer musicians. Later, it was quoted by Dmitry Shostakovich, and ironically enough, became best known as a children’s tune, despite the distinct political connotation of its lyrics.
In conjunction with the upcoming holidays and May being Jewish American Heritage Month, the Jukebox Groove Project will be presented at local synagogues, libraries, park districts, and cultural centers. Those interested in having Jukebox Groove presented in their community should contact Terra Sounds School of Music & Arts.
“If we can get one kid to fall in love with the music of Gershwin, Bernstein, or Benny Goodman, I will consider this project a huge success,” Romanenko said.
Romanenko thanks JUF, Genia Kovelman of RJD, Genesis Philanthropy Group, and Adam Davis of the KFAR Jewish Arts Center for helping the project come alive, as well as the entire creative community for all its support and inspiration.